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Arcadian Atlantis and Plato's Pseudomythology



Plato's story of Atlantis is almost certainly fictional. In Arcadian folklore, however, there is a kingdom of the same name. Although the Platonic Atlantis is imaginary, Plato arguably based it (in part) on the Arcadian Atlantis which has a real geographical setting; the Arcadian town Methydrium ('Between the Waters'). The Arcadian king list likely inspired Plato's kings of Atlantis meaning the Platonic Atlantis is a pseudomythology. In this paper, the Arcadian-Atlantis hypothesis is defended against criticisms, namely that the Arcadian Atlantis was a Hellenistic period invention. The Arcadian Atlantis or kingdom of Atlas - is revealed to be a real place (Methydrium) in the Peloponnese, but which today lies in ruins.
Arcadian Atlantis and Plato’s Pseudomythology
Oliver D. Smith, Independent Researcher
Plato’s story of Atlantis is almost certainly fictional. In Arcadian folklore, however, there is a kingdom
of the same name. Although the Platonic Atlantis is imaginary, Plato arguably based it (in part) on the
Arcadian Atlantis which has a real geographical setting; the Arcadian town Methydrium (Between the
Waters). The Arcadian king list likely inspired Plato’s kings of Atlantis meaning the Platonic Atlantis
is a pseudomythology. In this paper, the Arcadian-Atlantis hypothesis is defended against criticisms,
namely that the Arcadian Atlantis was a Hellenistic period invention. The Arcadian Atlantis or kingdom
of Atlas is revealed to be a real place (Methydrium) in the Peloponnese, but which today lies in ruins.
The story of Atlantis in Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias,
is in all probability fictional
(Smith, 2016) meaning the island never existed. As noted by Dorothy B. Vitaliano (1971), “The
Atlantis tale, of course, is not folklore in the strict sense. Every mention of it goes back to…
Plato”. In other words, there is no mention of the story independent of Plato (later sources that
mention it, either paraphrase, or quote from his dialogues) which strongly suggests the story is
not an authentic tradition. Plato’s island of Atlantis is therefore imaginary. In contrast, there is
a kingdom named Atlantis (Atlantos) in Arcadian folklore. This place of the same name as the
Platonic Atlantis was not an invention by Plato; the Arcadian Atlantis was first recorded by the
ancient Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1st century BCE) in his Roman Antiquities:
A translation of this text (Dion. Hal. 1. 61. 1) reads as follows:
Atlas was the first king of the country now called Arcadia, and he lived near the mountain
called Thaumasius. He had seven daughters, who are said to be numbered now among the
constellations under the name of the Pleiades; Zeus married one of these, Electra, and had
by her two sons, Iasus and Dardanus. Iasus remained unmarried, but Dardanus married
Timaeus and Critias form part of a continuous dialogue, written c. 355 BCE.
Chrysê, the daughter of Pallas, by whom he had two sons, Idaeus and Deimas and these,
succeeding Atlas in the kingdom [Άτλαντος], reign for some time in Arcadia.
Dionysius (1. 61. 2) goes on to describe a flood in the same region:
Afterwards, a great deluge occurring throughout Arcadia, the plains were overflowed and
for a long time could not be tilled; and the inhabitants, living upon the mountains and eking
out a sorry livelihood, decided that the land remaining would not be sufficient for the
support of them all, and so divided themselves into two groups, one of which remained in
Arcadia, after making Deimas, the son of Dardanus, their king, while the other left the
Peloponnesus on board a large fleet.
In another paper (Smith, 2021) I have argued Plato’s fictional island of Atlantis (principally
its metropolis) was inspired by the Arcadian Atlantis (Dion. Hal. 1. 61. 1) which is identifiable
with the Arcadian town Methydrium (‘Between the Waters’). My Arcadian-Atlantis hypothesis
has been criticised by a few classical scholars and this paper serves as a response or defence of
my novel idea. Arcadian Atlantis is seldom mentioned in literature on Plato’s Atlantis; I could
only find a single book (James, 1995) that briefly mentions it, “He [Atlas] was also especially
associated with Arcadia… Atlas once ruled as king of Arcadia” (p. 191). This is quite surprising
given the similarities between Plato’s Atlantis (vividly described in Critias) and the Arcadian
kingdom of Atlas described by Dionysius which I have already highlighted in my other paper.
Response to criticisms
Heinz-Günther Nesselrath (pers. commun.) made the following criticism:
Was the Arcadian Atlantis a Hellenistic period
invention? I think not but there is no way to
disprove this since the earliest source to explicitly mention the kingdom of Atlas in Arcadia is
Dionysius of Halicarnassus who published Roman Antiquities at the end of the 1st century BCE.
According to Dionysius himself in his preface of Roman Antiquities, he completed his work in
7 BCE but had started writing when he arrived in Rome in 30 BCE (Hill, 1961). Book 1 of RA,
concerns the “most ancient legends” of the Italic Peninsula. Dionysius was undoubtedly relying
on some traditions he heard by word of mouth or read in literature (Toye, 1995). He describes
323 31 BCE. Note Plato died c. 348 BCE.
Dardanus as a son of the Pleiad Electra, who was a daughter of Atlas (Dion. Hal. 1. 61. 1). This
mythological genealogy of Dardanus is as old as Hellanicus of Lesbos (late 5th century BCE)
who included it in his treatise on Atlas’ seven daughters titled Atlantis
(Hellan. frg. 56 Müller).
In Greek mythology, Atlas’ seven daughters (including Electra, the mother of Dardanus) were
personified as constellations and named the Pleiades or Atlantides (Dio. Sic. 3. 60. 4). Prior to
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the Roman writer Varro described Dardanus as an Arcadian (Serv.
ad Aen. 3. 167) but a fragment of HellanicusTroica infers Dardanus was born in Samothrace
(Hellan. frg. 129 Müller
). A syncretism of these traditions is found in Roman Antiquities which
says Dardanus went to Samothrace after leaving Arcadia with his sons (Dion. Hal. 1. 61. 3-4):
And sailing along the coast of Europe, they came to a gulf called Melas and chanced to
land on a certain island of Thrace, as to which I am unable to say whether it was previously
inhabited or not. They called the island Samothrace, a name compounded of the name of
a man and the name of a place. For it belongs to Thrace and its first settler was Samon, the
son of Hermes and a nymph of Cyllenê, named Rhenê. Here they remained but a short
time, since the life proved to be no easy one for them, forced to contend, as they were, with
both a poor soil and a boisterous sea; but leaving some few of their people in the island,
the greater part of them removed once more and went to Asia under Dardanus as leader of
their colony (for Iasus had died in the island, being struck with a thunderbolt for desiring
to have intercourse with Demeter)
In Roman Antiquities, Dionysius cites HellanicusTroica (Dion. Hal. 1. 22. 3; 48. 1) when
discussing foundation myths of Rome. It is reasonable to suggest he relied on Hellanicus for
the genealogy of Dardanus, “Hellanicus was no doubt the direct or indirect source of accounts
of the Dardanus legend in later writers”
(Lewis, 1958, p. 33). Hellanicus’ Troica and Atlantis
are now lost but fragments quoting or paraphrasing these works were compiled by Karl Müller.
Dionysius likely had access to a copy of the Troica and it is probable he was also familiar with
Hellanicus’ Atlantis because two fragments mention Dardanus and Iasion were sons of Electra
(Hellan. frgs. 56, 58 Müller) and the latter brother is Idaeus (Dion. Hal. 1. 61. 1). Furthermore,
another fragment (Hellan. frg. 19b Fowler = P. Oxy. VIII 1084 ed. Hunt) associates one of the
Atlantides with Arcadia (see below for discussion); this ancient fragment was discovered on a
2nd century CE papyrus scroll
and it is now accepted to be a quote from Hellanicus’ Atlantis.
Or Atlantikos.
= FGrHist 4 frg. 23. Dardanus is said to be born in Στρατηγίς (Strategis) usually identified with Samothrace.
For Hellanicus’ influence on the genealogy of the Atlantides in Pseudo-Apollodorus, see Thompson (2007).
DCLP/Trismegistos 59974 = LDAB 1086 = princeton.apis.p21 (
Fowler (2013, pp. 417-418): “…general probability is in favour of Hellanikean authorship”.
A translation of this text (Hellan. frg. 19b Fowler) reads as follows:
In Greek mythology, Maia was a Pleiad and sister of Electra; she gave birth to Hermes in a
cave on Mount Kyllene
(Cyllene) in Arcadia. Hellanicus does not mention the location of the
cave, but there is no doubt he thought it was on Mount Kyllene.
The same mountain in another
tradition was where the Pleiades (Atlantides) were born by Atlas and Pleione (Ps-Apollod. 3.
10. 1). Dionysius of Halicarnassus probably had read Hellanicus’ Atlantis and Troica to gather
information on the Atlantides. Unfortunately, there are few fragments of Atlantis (Hellan. frgs.
54-58 Müller) and none of them mention Atlas’ kingdom (or Atlantis) in Arcadia. Nevertheless,
it is reasonable to presume Hellanicus wrote about the Arcadian Atlantis in lost fragments. This
is because the earliest associations of Atlas [the Titan] were with Arcadia” (Guthrie, 1978, p.
249). The dwelling place of Atlas in Arcadia was not a Hellenistic period invention; Dionysius
Translation by Thomas (2007).
This mountain is today known as Mount Kyllini.
Hermes is called “Cyllenian” as early as Homer (Od. 24. 1). A fragment from the 6th century (?) BCE Catalogue
of Women reads: In the mountains of Cyllene, she [Maia] bore the messenger of the gods, Hermes” (Ps-Hes. frg.
119 Most). Hermes’ birthplace in cave on Mount Cyllene is mentioned in Hom. Herm. 5-6; Ps-Apollod. 3. 10. 2.
relied on earlier (Archaic/Classical period) traditions. The encyclopaedia Realencyclopädie der
classischen Altertumswissenschaft points out ancient Greeks originally placed Atlas in Arcadia
but his abode and the Hesperides
were relocated when their geographical horizon expanded:
Atlas was originally located undoubtedly in Arcadia; on Kyllene the Atlantians are born
(Apollod. III 10, 1, 1); Maia, the Arcadian earth goddess, is the daughter of A. and gives
birth to Hermes on Kyllene; A. lives on the Arcadian Thaumasion (Dion. Hal. I 61, 1); his
daughter is the Arcadian heroine Maira; the serpent of the Hesperides garden bears the
name of the Arcadian river Ladon; see also Serv. Aen. VIII 134: tertius Arcadicus. So in
Arcadia Atlas bears the sky, in Arcadia he is the ancestor of the Peloponnesian princely
houses; this gives us the key to understanding the legendary figure. From whichever side
one looks at the mighty rock masses of the Arcadian highlands in the Peloponnesian coastal
landscapes, the mighty mountain wall towers up everywhere and seems to reach almost
into the sky One arrives at the same result with the help of etymology: the derivation of
the name Ἄτλας from the root τλα, to bear, to endure is generally accepted; he signifies the
bearer of heaven... the more the horizon of the Greeks expanded westward with the
advance of shipping into western waters, the lands of fantasy, the garden of the gods, the
islands of the blessed, etc., and with them the location of Atlas in ever wider distant.
In Greek mythology, Atlas holds the sky on his shoulders (or by holding columns); in terms
of cosmography this was envisioned by ancient Greeks to be in the middle of the earth’s surface
axis mundi (Anghelina, 2010). Arcadia
(see fig. 1) in the words of Strabo (8. 8. 1), “lies in
the middle of the Peloponnesus most of the country which it includes is mountainous. This
unique topography explains the myth of Atlas as having to hold up the sky (in variants of this
myth, petrification turns Atlas into a stone or mountain
). According to Dionysius, Atlas “lived
near the mountain called Thaumasius” (Dion. Hal. 1. 61. 1). His kingdom was named Atlantis
(Atlantos) and Thaumasius was a mountain known to ancient Greeks. Pausanias (2nd century
CE) in his Description of Greece locates it near the town Methydrium (Methydrion). This town
(which today lies in ruins) was in central Arcadia (see fig. 2). A legend even describes a stone
in Methydrium that “marks the centre of the Peloponnese” (Kollias, 2003, p. 13). Atlas and his
mountain, were later relocated from the centre (Arcadia) to the extremities on the world map.
The Hesperides were daughters of Atlas and lived close to him (Hes. Theog. 518-519; Eur. Hipp. 742 ff.).
The ancient region overlaps geographically with the modern regional unit in Greece of the same name.
Atlas’ petrifaction is “first alluded to in Polyidos PMG 837 [c. 400 BCE]” (Fowler, 2013, p. 254) and notably
is mentioned by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses.
Most often in the west (see below for sources), however, one tradition positions Atlas among the Hyperboreans
in the far north (Ps-Apollod. 2. 5. 11). Peter James has argued Atlas was originally located in the east, i.e., Lydia
(James, 1995, pp. 274-278) but this is not tenable since no classical source places Atlas or Mount Atlas in Anatolia;
the cultural diffusionist theory that the Atlas myth borrowed from Near Eastern mythologies is at best speculative.
(Figure 1.) Ancient Arcadia and surrounding regions.
(Figure 2.) Abbè J. J. Barthelemy’s map of Arcadia (1786). Methydrium is in the centre.
Another criticism of the Arcadian-Atlantis hypothesis was made by an editor of a classics
journal, I submitted my manuscript (Smith, 2021).
The editor casted doubt on my suggestion
Plato’s kings of Atlantis were inspired by the mythical Arcadian kings listed by Pausanias. This
scepticism is based on the theory Atlas as a king of Arcadia was a Hellenistic period invention
(Gruen, 2010, p. 247). While there is no mention of Atlas specifically as an Arcadian king in
ancient Greek literature until the late 1st century BCE (Dion. Hal. 1. 61. 1), he appears as a king
in classical period artwork.
Dionysius thus did not make up the motif Atlas was a king; neither
did Plato (Crit. 114a) since Atlas appears as a king sitting on a throne in an amphora painting
dated c. 360 BCE.
Ogden (2021, p. 156) describes this painting and speculates it could reflect
the tradition Atlas was a king of Arcadia.
Before Plato wrote Critias, there was evidently a
tradition Atlas was the name of a king, so Ogden’s notion is plausible (especially considering
Arcadia was where Atlas was originally thought to hold up the sky in the middle of the earth).
Plato’s Critias and Hellanicus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus arguably consulted the works of Hellanicus when outlining the
genealogy of the Atlantides and story of Arcadian Atlantis (its kings and deluge). Luce (1978)
has interestingly argued Plato consulted Hellanicus’ Atlantis when writing his dialogue Critias:
Plato may have derived some inspiration from fifth-century literary presentations of
popular mythology. I refer to the work of Hellanicus of Lesbos, whose writings, so far as
I am aware, have not previously been discussed in relation to Atlantis criticism. This is all
the more surprising given the fact Hellanicus was the author of works entitled Phoronis,
Deucalioneia, and Atlantis (or Atlantika, or Atlantias), and that Plato explicitly alludes to
the legends of Phoroneus and Deucalion in the introduction of the Atlantis story.
Luce (1978) further pointed out similarities of a Hellanicus fragment to Critias (113d-e). A
line from this fragment (Hellan. frg. 19b Fowler, translated by Thomas, 2007) reads as follows:
I submitted my manuscript to two academic classics journals: Berkeley Undergraduate Journal of Classics and
New Classicists, but both were desk-rejected. An editor of the latter, however, kindly left me feedback by email.
There are two ancient paintings that depict Atlas as a king: the earliest (c. 420 BCE) is the Meidias Hydria on
display (G19/dc2) in the British Museum. An inscription above the figure (holding a sceptre) reads either “A…Σ”
or “A…ς”. Although some archaeologists consider this inscription to mean κάμας, an alternative and more likely
reading (since the Hesperides are painted on the same object) is Ἄτλας (Atlas). The second is an amphora (c. 360
BCE) from Apulia (southern Italy) which undisputedly depicts Atlas as a king sitting on a throne holding a sceptre.
Cf. Dio. Sic. 3. 60. 1, mentions Atlaskingdom but locates it in coastal northwest Africa.
And Poseidon has sex with Kelaino [Celaeno]. From them Lykos is born, whom his father
installs in the islands of the blest and makes immortal.
In Critias (113d), Plato describes a woman named Cleito
as mating with Poseidon:
Now, there lived on this hill one of the people of this island who had originally sprung
from the earth. His name was Evenor and he dwelt there with his wife Leucippe. They had
only one child, a daughter by the name of Clito… Poseidon conceived a desire for her and
slept with her. To make the hill which she lived a strong enclosure he broke it to form a
circle and he created alternating rings of sea and land around it.
Luce (1978, p. 72), noted that Plato describes “an island sanctuary fashioned by the god for
their offspring” and this closely resembles Hellanicus’ fragment. Cleito (or Clito) and Celaeno
are also similar in name; the latter is one of the Pleiades (Atlantides) and a sister of Electra (Ps-
Apollod. 3. 10. 1). It is likely Plato read Hellanicus’ Atlantis
but he modified Celaeno’s name.
In contrast, Dionysius did not change the names of the Atlantides; nor their descendants (e.g.,
he mentions Electra, Dardanus and Idaeus
). The main difference between Dionysius’ Atlantis
and Plato’s Atlantis is the former is an authentic tradition of Arcadia, while the latter a fiction
inspired by the Arcadian Atlantis. For this reason, the Platonic Atlantis is best considered to be
a pseudomythology.
The genealogy of Atlas in Critias is quite unlike any other ancient source
because Plato made up Atlas’ mythical ancestry. In Greek mythology, Atlas descends from the
Titan Iapetos (Hes. Theog. 507) not Poseidon (Cri. 113e-114a). As I have elsewhere argued he
modified names on the Arcadian king list to make his imaginary Atlantean kings (Smith, 2021).
Or Clito.
It is argued by one scholar the island(s) of the blest mentioned by Hellanicus (frg. 19b Fowler) refer to Platos
Atlantis (Papamarinopoulos, 2010). However, there is no reason to suppose these isles were located by Hellanicus
in the Atlantic Ocean, where Plato’s dialogues unambiguously locate Atlantis (Ti. 24e; Cri. 114b). The original
location of the islands of the blest in Greek myth was somewhere in the Peloponnese, but this falls outside scope
of this paper. The fact Hellanicus titled his genealogical treatise on the Atlantides, Atlantis, does not mean he was
referring to Plato’s island of Atlantis. As noted by James (1995, p. 191), The title does not mean what it might
seem at first glance. Atlantis can simply mean ‘daughter of Atlas’, and this was clearly the intention of Hellanicus
who wrote similar genealogical guides”. Atlantis (Ἀτλαντὶς) means “of Atlas” and often denotes in ancient Greek
literature daughters of Atlas, particularly those born in Arcadia or their descendants e.g., Hesiod’s Theogony (v.
938), Ἀτλαντὶς Μαίη (“Maia, daughter of Atlas”) and Mercury, the grandson of Atlas by Maia: “Mercuri, facunde
nepos Atlantis (Hor. Od. 1. 10. 1). The son of Mercury and great-grandson of Atlas, Hermaphroditus, was called
Atlantius (Hyg. Fab. 271). Herodotus (c. 440 BCE) mentions Ἀτλαντὶς θάλασσα, “sea of Atlas” (Hdt. 1. 202. 4).
Or Iasius, Iasion.
Romm (1992, p. 126) similarly describes Plato’s Atlantis as a “pseudogeography”.
Atlantes in Arcadia
In ancient Greek geography, Atlantes (Ἄτλαντες) was the name given to a people who dwelt
next to Mount Atlas. They derived their name eponymously from the mountain. The original
location of the Atlantes was in Arcadia but there was a westward shift when Greeks expanded
their knowledge of the Mediterranean Sea.
Classical literature places the Atlantes and Mount
Atlas in Cyrenaica
(Lycoph. Alex. 877) or northwest Africa
(Hdt. 4. 184. 3-4; Strab. 17. 3.
2; Paus. 1. 33. 5; Mela. 1. 23) but as Robert Beekes (2010, p. 163) points out in his Etymological
Dictionary of Greek, Ἄτλας (Atlas) was: “originally the name of an Arcadian mountain god”
who later “transferred to the mountain chain in Western Africa”. In the 4th century CE, Servius
reported three geographical traditions of Atlas, including the Arcadian, Mauritian, and Italian:
Atlantes tres fuisse; unum Maurum, qui est maximus; alterum Italicum, patrem Electrae,
unde natus est Dardanus; tertium Arcadicum, patrem Maiae, unde natus est Mercurius. sed
nunc ex nominum similitudine facit errorem et dicit Electram et Maiam filias fuisse
Atlantis maximi.
(Serv. ad Aen. 8. 134)
My translation:
there were three Atlanteans; one Moor, who is the greatest; another Italian, the father of
Electra, from whom Dardanus was born; the third Arcadian, the father of Maia, from whom
Mercury was born.
The Cretan poet Rhianus (3rd century BCE) in his ethnographical poem Achaica mentioned
the Atlantes (FGrHist 265 frg. 2). It is likely Rhianus was describing the Atlantes from Arcadia
(the original location of the Atlantes) rather than the northwest African tribes (Spanakis, 2010):
…it is unlikely that the Cretan poet inserted a digression about Libyan tribes in his
ethnographical account of Achaia. Rhianus integrated the Atlantes probably alluding to a
mythical Arcadian tradition about a mountain Atlas and a tribe named in the Peloponnese.
Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound (c. 450 BCE) is the earliest source to put Atlas in the west (v. 348); this perhaps
can be explained by a myth first recorded by Pherecydes (FGrHist 3 frg. 17) that says Atlas gave up holding the
column holding up the sky (Heracles temporarily replaced him) to visit the garden of Hesperides which ancient
Greeks came to locate in the west by its folk etymology (Anghelina, 2010). Hesiod locates Atlas at the borders of
the earth near the Hesperides (Theog. 517-518) but mentions no cardinal direction. The relocation of mythological
figures or places was well known to ancient Greek and Roman geographers; Pliny (NH. 5. 5) wrote “the myths of
Greece often change their locality”. For the westward shift of Heracles’ columns and Erytheia, see Smith (2019).
Pseudo-Skylax’ Periplous (108) locates the Hesperides in this region. There was also a city called ‘Euesperides’
(named after Hesperides); this was the westernmost Greek colony of Cyrenaica on the border of the Greater Syrtis.
Dio. Sic. 3. 54. 4-5, describes an African tribe named Ἀτλαντίους as warring with an adjacent Libyan people.
Methydrium and Atlantis
The Arcadian Atlantis (Atlantos) was a real place. Dionysius states (Dion. Hal. 1. 61. 1):
Atlas was the first king of the country now called Arcadia, and he lived near the mountain
called ThaumasiusAtlas in the kingdom [Άτλαντος], reign for some time in Arcadia.
In other words, Atlantis lay nearby a mountain (Thaumasius).
This mountain was known
to Pausanias (2nd century CE) who located it close to Methydrium (Paus. 8. 36. 1-2). Formerly
a town or a polis,
Methydrium (Methydrion) continued to exist during the time of Pausanias,
albeit as a village which was much less prosperous when it was under the Arcadian League.
Today, however, it lies in ruins on a hill. Archaeology has unearthed walls, towers and a temple
dating to the 5th or 4th century BCE (Jost, 1985, p. 213; Kollais, 2003, p. 46). The oldest find at
the site is a bronze statuette of Zeus dating to the archaic period (Jost, 1985, pp. 214-215). The
location of Methydrium has never been in doubt and in 1927, a village (Nemnitsa) a couple of
km from Methydrium was renamed ‘Methydrio’. Thaumasius is identified by a local tradition
as Profitis Ilias, the highest peak of the Mainalo mountains, a few miles from Methydrium. At
1981 meters (see fig. 3) this is the most elevated point in Arcadia, reaffirming the mythological
connection with Atlas. Mainalo is in the centre of the Peloponnese and middle of Arcadia the
axis mundi of ancient Greek cosmography. It is worthwhile to repeat Pausanias’s description:
Methydrium itself, which is distant from Tricoloni one hundred and thirty-seven stades. It
received the name Methydrium (Between the Waters) because there is a high knoll between
the river Maloetas and the Mylaon, and on it, Orchomenus built his city. Methydrium too
had citizens victorious at Olympia before it belonged to Megalopolis. There is in
Methydrium a temple of Horse Poseidon, standing by the Mylaon. But Mount Thaumasius
(Wonderful) lies beyond the river Maloetas, and the Methydrians hold that when Rhea was
pregnant with Zeus, she came to this mountain and enlisted as her allies, in case Cronus
should attack her, Hopladamus and his few giants. They allow that she gave birth to her
son on some part of Mount Lycaeus, but they claim that here Cronus was deceived, and
here took place the substitution of a stone for the child that is spoken of in the Greek legend.
On the summit of the mountain is Rhea's Cave, into which no human beings may enter
save only the women who are sacred to the goddess. About thirty stades from Methydrium
is a spring Nymphasia, and it is also thirty stades from Nymphasia to the common
boundaries of Megalopolis, Orchomenus and Caphyae.
(Paus. 8. 36. 1-4)
Or Thaumasios.
Theomp. ap. Porph. Abst. 2. 16 (town); Paus. 8. 27. 4 (polis).
Paus. 8. 27. 7. The seat of the Arcadian League was the city Megalopolis (founded in 371 BCE).
Frazer (1898, iv, p. 363) notes in his commentary on Pausanias (8. 36. 3): “On Mount St. Elias [Profitis Ilias],
above Nemnitsa, there is a grotto, which the peasants call the cave of Nikolaki. It may be the grotto of Rhea.
The terminus ante quem when Methydrium was founded is the 6th century BCE. However,
this date can be pushed back centuries if the remains of a temple outside the walls are included
as part of the town. The ancient boundary of Methydrium likely extended beyond the enclosed
area. About 3 kilometres west of Methydrium (at a village named Petrovouni) are remains of a
temple which archaeologists identify as dedicated to Poseidon Hippios. Although this temple
dates to the Hellenistic period, its earlier foundations are 7th century BCE (Jost, 1985, p. 215).
Adjacent to the temple, a bronze figurine was discovered which is geometric in style (Voyatzis,
1990, p. 45) and dates to the 8th century BCE; the bronze figurine has been interpreted by some
archaeologists to be male dancers with horse (opposed to ram?) heads or masks which favours
the ruins being the Poseidon Hippios temple described by Pausanias. Most scholars now accept
this identification (Balériaux, 2019). Methydrium closely resembles the topography described
by Pausanias (Kollais, 2003, pp. 45-46). Poseidon Hippios i.e., Poseidon Horse was a cult and
epithet of Poseidon, who was revered as a god in Arcadia more than any other region of Greece:
According to Diodorus [15. 49. 4], the Peloponnesians particularly revered Poseidonthe
Arcadians seem to have celebrated the god with fervour, as the evidence from various sites
dedicated to Poseidon shows. (Balériaux, 2019)
Plato’s Atlantis metropolis
Methydrium means ‘Between the Waters’ and derives its name from the rivers Maloetas and
Mylaon. These have been identified as local rivers, Pyrgaki and Nemnitsa, respectively (Frazer,
1898, iv, p. 362; Kollais, 2003, p. 45) and their confluence is found north of Methydrium in an
adjoining valley. The rather steep west and north sides of the hill (see fig. 4) explain Pausanias’
description of a “high knoll”.
I have argued Plato’s Atlantis metropolis was chiefly modelled
on Methydrium (Smith, 2021). Plato describes a hill, rings of water and a temple with a statue
of Poseidon and horses (Cri. 113c-d, 116c-e). It is probable the temple of Poseidon Hippios on
the outskirts of Methydrium (outside of the enclosed area) had a statue of Poseidon and horses.
The grandiosity of the Atlantis metropolis was likely inspired by the Arcadian city Megalopolis
(‘Great City’). This city temporarily, took control of Methydrium.
It is possible Plato visited
the city Megalopolis in person since he was invited, or supposedly sent one of his pupils there.
Paus. 8. 36. 1. The east and south sides of the hill, however, are low forming an inclined plateau.
The site of Megalopolis is about 19 miles southward of Methydrium. Pausanias (8. 27. 4) mentions Megalopolis’
control of Methydrium under the Arcadian League by Epaminondas of Thebes, although this lasted a short time.
DL. 3. 23; Plut. Adv. Col. 32; see Smith (2021) for discussion of the classical sources.
(Figure 3.) Mainalo, the highest mountain range in Arcadia.
(Figure 4.) Topographical map of Methydrium (Gaertringen and Lattermann, 1911).
Arcadians and Atlanteans
The inhabitants of ancient Arcadia were renowned for their piety and virtue; Polybius in his
The Histories (2nd century BCE) describes the Arcadians as having a “high reputation for virtue
among the Greeks” (Pol. 4. 20. 1). The Methydrians were especially noted for being pious; one
man from Methydrium, named Clearchus, had a way of worshipping deities that “surpassed all
other men” (Theomp. ap. Porph. Abst. 2. 16). Plato similarly describes the Atlanteans as having
been a virtuous people who honoured gods to the extent, they possessed a “divine nature” (Cri.
Aside from being pious and virtuous, Arcadians were regarded to have been the oldest
indigenous (autochthonous) peoples with exception of the Athenians in Greece; Demosthenes
(4th century BCE) in one of his judicial orations asserted “you [Athenians] and they [Arcadians]
are the only indigenous peoples in Greece” (On the False Embassy, 19. 261). The Arcadians
in some myths were considered to have lived even before the moon”
(Ap. Rhod. 4. 263 f.):
As yet all the stars that wheel in the heaven were not, nor yet, though one should inquire,
could aught be heard of the sacred race of the Danai. Apidanean Arcadians alone existed,
Arcadians who lived even before the moon, it is said, eating acorns on the hills; nor at that
time was the Pelasgian land ruled by the glorious sons of Deucalion, in the days when
Egypt, mother of men of an older time, was called the fertile Morning-land.
Atlanteans and Athenians are described by Plato as being of a great age 9000 years before
the time of Solon, there was a conflict between Atlantis and Athens (Ti. 23a; Cri. 108e). What
does this imaginary war mean? It is plausible Plato had in mind rival traditions of autochthony;
being an Athenian he favoured Athens over Arcadia. In another paper, I will develop this idea.
The destruction of Atlantis
Plato (Ti. 25d) describes the destruction of Atlantis as follows:
But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night
of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis
in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts
is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was
caused by the subsidence of the island.
Although, over time they became corrupted, so Zeus decided to punish them (Plat. Cri. 121b-c).
Arcadians were known as Proselēnoi, meaning “pre-lunar” (Dueck, 2020).
Dionysius (1. 61. 2) mentions a great deluge occurring throughout Arcadia”.
This flood
myth was likely based on a real flood. Arcadia has long been known to have drainage problems:
Arcadia πολυπῖδαξ (“rich in springs”) is known for its damp soil, but some districts are
more affected than others by the unfortunate consequences of living in a karstic landscape.
The characteristics of these basins are that water streams into them from the mountains at
the end of the winter and saturates their natural sinkholes (or katavothres), leading to large-
scale floods. Pheneos, Mantinea, Methydrion, Kaphyai and Orchomenos were districts
where such recurrent drainage problems occurredMethydrion, in central Arcadia, was
located 1000m above sea level, and according to Pausanias was named after the fact that
it was built between the waters of the Mylaon and the Maloetas rivers, which suggests that
it might have been periodically affected by flooding issues as well. (Balériaux, 2019)
Some classicists argue Plato when writing about the destruction of Atlantis was inspired by
Helike (Helice) a Peloponnesian city submerged by a tsunami in 373 BCE (Giovannini, 1985)
or an earthquake that destroyed the island Atalante off the coast of Locris (Vidal-Naquet, 2007,
p. xvii). I have described this as a possibility (Smith, 2020). On the other hand, Methydrium is
the main ingredient to Plato’s Atlantis story, so he probably got the idea of Atlantis’ destruction
from an Arcadian flood myth. Methydrium was the site of floods owing to drainage problems.
Plato describes a “great canal” on Atlantis (Cri. 118d). Pausanias records a tradition, Heracles
“dug a channel through the middle of the plain of Pheneus for the river Olbius” (Paus. 8. 14.
3). This region of Arcadia was prone to floods because of its karstic landscape (sinkholes). In
fact, the tradition Heracles dug a canal in the Pheneatan countryside has a core of truth since
“…in the 1980s a team of German engineers found evidence of these works” (Balériaux, 2019).
I hope to have demonstrated, the Arcadian Atlantis (Atlantos) and Methydrium are the same
and Atlas’ mountain is Thaumasius (= Mainalo), the axis mundi of ancient Greek cosmography.
Plato primarily modelled his fictional metropolis of Atlantis on Methydrium, its kings on the
Arcadian king list, its war with Athens, on the rivalry over autochthony, and its destruction on
a deluge story in Arcadian folklore. There are more parallels between Arcadia and Atlantis.
Cf. Diod. Sic. 15. 49. 4-5; Plin. NH. 31. 30 (floods and earthquakes at Pheneus, Arcadia).
Plato’s description of bull sacrifices on Atlantis (Cri. 119d-e) has led some classical scholars to look to Minoan
Crete (Luce, 1969, p. 182). However, an inscription (c. 500 BCE) reads: “To (the sanctuary at?) Kletor, a bull
(Carbon and Clackson, 2016). The inscription describes a bull sacrifice at a sanctuary in an Arcadian city; Kleitor.
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